"So this is the vampire room, huh?" Beth asked nervously, looking around at the beautifully elegant room and the other patrons occupying it.
Mick gave a little laugh. "Yeah, but don't worry. They have plenty of menu choices, and you're not one of them."
"What if one of them decides they don't want it in a glass?"
Mick laughed again and recieved a look for his trouble- one of those looks only a scandalised and exasperated woman can manage to the one that tests her patience.
"Sorry," Mick apologized, stifleing another laugh. "Don't worry. You're not the only human in here. See? Look around, you'll see a few others eating from plates. Besides, the menu offers fresh choices, too."
Beth did look around, this time actually taking the time to notice small details like that. She looked back at Mick, satisfied that she was safe, and asked, "I thought very few people know about vampires?"
"Well, I'm sure there are more people than we know about that know of vampires, people that don't advertise their knowledge, like you for instance. And then there are freshies, of course. But there are usually some precautions taken to find those that will be loyal to their employers, during and after their employment, and that means keeping quiet. And occassionally there are business colleagues or partners that will be trusted with the secret. And of course, a yet to be turned man or woman that's fallen in love with a vampire."
That last statement- he'd said it before thinking - brought a flustered flush to Beth's face. They just looked at each other akwardly for a moment, then Mick cleared his throat. He struggled for words to break the embarrassed silence between them.
"That's too many mortals by some vampire's standards, but very few compared to the population of the several billion people in the world." Lame, but it broke the tension that was beginning to build.
Beth stayed silent for another moment, then bravely continued the conversation. "So that's expected? To be turned when you fall in love with a vampire. It's considered the usual?"
"Wellll," Mick hedged, wondering what he'd let himself walk into. He remembered the shower when she'd been on the Black Crystal, when she'd begged him to turn her. "It's a mutual decision between both, really. It's a big step. But it's usually expected that the human be turned if there's going a serious relationship between them. It doesn't really turn out well, otherwise. Have you decided what you'd like to order?"
Beth gave him a look that clearly said she knew this as an attempt to change the subject, but she let it go and instead perused her menu as the waiter approached. To give her time, Mick gave his order, specifying a preferred blood-type and that he wanted packaged rather than fresh. He'd been thinking about changing back to Josef's previously mandated twice-a-week feedings rather than the almost daily fresh feedings he'd been partaking in. He knew Josef would be disappointed, but he didn't think he'd mind too much. At least if Mick promised to stick to the two-a-week deal. It had been Mick's decision to increase the feedings in the first place, after all.
Mick was gratified to see that Beth didn't go through that whole drama of indecision and then ordering one of the cheapest items on the menu. He'd always liked decisive women, of which Beth certainly was, and he liked that she was comfortable and secure enough with him and their relationship that she had no problem ordering what she actually wanted rather than what would be considered polite in a lesser relationship.
When the waiter had taken their orders and departed, Mick sipped the wine that had been poured. "Have you thought about what you'd like to do after dinner?" he questioned her.
Mick waited a moment, then smiled and asked, "Are you gonna tell me or are you gonna make me guess?"
"I don't want to tell you yet. I'll tell you when we get there."
"I've always liked suprises. But tonight's for you, Beth."
"It's for both of us. Besides, I think you'll like it. I hope. And I like seeing you happy."
"Not as much as I like seeing you happy."
"I'm glad you did this, Mick. We really needed it."
"I'm glad too. But I have a confession to make."
"It was Josef."
"What was Josef?"
"This. It was Josef's idea and he's footing the bill. I just thought you should know. I don't want you to think I was misleading you."
Beth went still for a moment and Mick felt his stomach drop. She was mad. She was mad and he couldn't blame her. Here was a beautiful, deserving woman that just found out the special evening she was being treated to hadn't been her date's idea and was even being paid for by a third party. She should be mad. God, he was an idiot! Maybe he shouldn't have told her. Maybe he should have let her believe it was all him. But he didn't want to lie to her, either. It would serve him right if she just got up right now and caught a taxi home, leaving him alone to drink his wine and ponder his own stupidity.
"Josef's paying for all this?"
"He insisted. It's a gift."
"Well," she began, then left him in suspense as she picked up her wine glass and took a sip. She set her glass down and met Mick's eyes. "Remind me to thank him. How do you feel about taking a lear jet to Paris for the weekend?"
Mick blinked in suprise, expecting harsher words. The he laughed loudly in relief that she'd made a joke instead. How lucky was he to have found such a woman?
Across the room, sitting at a corner table shrouded in shadows, a trio of vampires watched Mick and Beth as they enjoyed their evening.
"So he can't tell we're here?" Jackson asked his sire and Rake, the vampire equivalent of his uncle.
"If he were to try sensing just us, perhaps he could. But he's not, and in a room full of other vampires, which he is also sensing, we blend in," Rake explained.
"You did well in learning of this evening St. John had planned, Jackson. I am pleased."
"Thank you, Sire," Jackson sat up straighter in pleasure at the unexpected praise. Malcolm did not hand out compliments easily.
Malcolm turned his attention to Rake, his vampire brother. "Sylvia has planted the seeds of warning in St. John's mind. That is not good."
"I've visited with Josef. He trusts me. That will make things easier."
"It does not counteract the possible problems she may have created. She has been spending time with him, making routine visits. You know what must be done."
"I know. It's hard, but it'll be taken care of."
"It is never easy disciplining one's childe, especially if the punishment must be death. But Sylvia has strayed from our purpose. If she is allowed to continue, our plans could be ruined."
"I know, Malcolm," Rake said with a touch of uncharacteristic bitterness. "If our sire taught us anything, it was intolerance for betrayal."
"I'm sorry, brother. I know it is hard. I know Sylvia was your first. Your eldest and your favorite. I'd have believed her always loyal, regardless of our cause."
Jackson let his attention wander for a moment from the conversation between his sire and his sire's vampire brother. He had to admit, Beth Turner was a beautiful woman. He watched as a waiter brought the mortal her meal and Mick's glass of preferred type. Graceful, as well. It was easy to see what Mick saw in her to attract him. It was also easy to see that his feelings for her went beyond simple attraction. He wondered if there were any plans to turn her, and he thought she might make a perfect vampire. Better even than Mick, if the things Jackson had heard were accurate.
Who could not want to be a vampire? Once you became one, the strength and invincibility were irresistable. And the power, which just grows as you age. Jackson envied the elders, couldn't wait until he was old enough to experience such power. Just the idea was intoxicating. But he reveled in the here and now, as well. He knew these early days, once passed, would be gone forever. He wasn't quite as eager to be done with these days and nights that he spent in the company of his sire, and he knew he'd miss them when they were gone. It would happen eventually, as all things do.
Jackson wondered what Mick's relationship with Josef was like. Josef Kostan was a powerful vampire. Not as powerful as the two residing at the table with Jackson at the present moment, to be sure, but not a figure to be taken lightly, either. He had a reputation for being fierce and intolerant, even to those far outside of the Community he leads. His reputation precedes him. Jackson would surely think twice about going up against him, but of course there was a huge difference between their ages. It can be hard to have a sire like that, Jackson knows from experience. Never once had Jackson regretted that Malcolm was the one that had turned him, but it hadn't always been easy.
Jackson's thoughts came to a halt as he observed Mick and his human stand to depart. Apparentlly, they'd finished their meals and conversation and were ready to leave. He turned to Malcolm, who was still deep in conversation with Rake. He didn't dare interrupt- Malcolm held to old fashioned values- but Malcolm felt his agitation and stopped speaking to Rake mid-sentence.
When Jackson knew he had Malcolm's attention, he spoke. "Sire, they're leaving. Should I follow?"
"Yes. But no interaction and stay far enough away that it would be very hard for him to sense you. Watch only."
"Yes, sir." He would be very careful to follow that directive. When Malcolm had found out that Jackson had made himself known to Mick on two seperate occassions, he hadn't been happy at all. Jackson had no desire for a repeat of the consequences.
When the youngest vampire had departed on his mission, Rake looked at Malcolm. "You should be proud of him," he complimented. "He does well for one so young."
"Yes," Malcolm acknowlegded. "He is doing well in his training. He will make an acceptable Council member."
Rake just smiled fondly, knowing his 'brother' well enought to recognize the depth of emotion he was so good at hiding. Malcolm cared for his youngling deeply, and he was proud of his accomplishments.
But he quickly lost his smile, remembering his own childe and what must be done with her.
"So you're still not gonna tell me where we're going?"
"Not yet," Beth said from the driver's seat of Mick's car. "Just sit back and enjoy the ride." She'd managed to talk him into letting her drive so she could continue the suspense as long as possible. She knew he'd figure it out before they got there just by observing the surrounding area, but that was okay. He'd never guess until then. He'd told her the sky's the limit, so he probably figured she was going to pick something out of the ordinary that she'd never get to do otherwise. If that's what he thought, then he was in for a shock. She just hoped he'd like it as much as she thought he would. And that he still kept that blanket in his trunk in case he ever got caught out under the sun too long.
About twenty minutes later, she saw him sit up and look around. She smiled at his bewildered look, but he said nothing. A few minutes more and she pulled off the two lane highway and into a sandy parking area.
"We're at the beach," Mick stated the obvious.
"Yep," she confirmed.
"Are you sure this is where you want to go?"
"I drove us here, didn't I? Did you have something else in mind?" She was a little worried now, thinking maybe she'd been mistaken.
"No, of course not. I thought you might, though. We're not exactly dressed for the beach, you know."
"That's okay. I like it here. Besides, we had some great times here for that little bit of time you were human. But now you're a vampire again and can't come here during the day. I remember you mentioning once that you can feel the moonlight the way I can feel the sunlight. I figured maybe you'd like it just as much under the moon as you did with the sun. And I wanted you to know that I can enjoy your world, too. I have no problem coming to the beach at night. It's a whole new world."
Beth got out of the car and he followed her example. She was gratified to see that the blanket was still in the trunk, once she'd found the right key for it.
"You're right," she heard from behind her. "It is beautiful, isn't it?"
She slammed the trunk and turned, blanket under her arm, and came to stand next to him. They stared out at the darkness of the ocean, the moonlight and stars glittering above and the sound of the surf in their ears. Beth could smell the salt, and the breeze coming off the ocean was cool. She reached up with her free hand and pulled a couple crucial pins from her hair and let it fall loosely around her shoulders and back, destroying in half a second the style it had taken her hours to accomplish. She sighed. Much better. The breeze lifted her loose hair and swirled it around messily.
She looked to her left where Mick was standing beside her and caught him staring at her. "What?" she asked.
"Nothing. It looks like a halo. Your hair, I mean. The way it's blowing around with the moon behind you. You look like an angel."
Well. What was there to say to that? "I'm gonna go out onto the sand and spread the blanket." She reached down to take off her heels and headed out onto the beach, blanket still under one arm and shoes dangling from the other hand. Spread the blanket? she thought to herself in disgust. That was the best I could come up with after he calls me an angel? I'm gonna spread the blanket? You're an idiot, Beth Turner! She could hear his footsteps on the sand as he followed her.
She found a spot near the water, far enough away to avoid the waves. After spreading the blanket on the sand, she flopped down, dropping her shoes next to her, then pulled her pantyhose off. She spread her toes into the sand, enjoying the grainy coolness.
Mick sat next to her and took his shoes and socks off as well, sliding his feet up next to hers in the sand. "This is nice," he said.
"It is," she agreed. "It sure feels good on my feet. Be glad you never have to wear high heels. It couldn't have been a woman that invented those torture devices."
Mick scooted around so that they were facing opposite directions, though still immediately next to each other. "Here," he said. Lay down."
Beth looked at him questioningly, but did as he asked and lay back on the blanket and stared up at the stars. She felt his hands around her ankles, then he pulled her feet over into his lap, where he now sat cross-legged. He began a firm massage on one foot, rubbing the soreness from it, beginning in the middle of the arch, then down to the heel, then all the way up to the toes. Then he would repeat the process, varying the stroking pattern from circles, to up and down, then back again. Beth sighed.
"Feel good?" Mick asked.
"Mmm. Sure does. You could make a living with this. I'd pay for it."
"You wouldn't have to."
"Well now you'll never get rid of me. Free foot rubs? Who can resist that?"
"Now I know your weakness." He let go of her foot and moved his attentions to the other one.
"This breeze feels good, too. So you can really feel the moon?"
"Yes. It's not quite like what the sun feels like. It's not warmth. It's more....I don't know how to explain it. It's soothing."
Beth sat up, pulling her foot from Mick's hands. "You know what I want to do?" she asked abruptly. "I want to go swimming."
"Are you sure? It's pretty dark out there."
"Is the big, bad vampire scared of a little dark?"
Mick smiled at her teasing. "Of course not. I can see perfectly. I was thinking of you."
"Well, you said we could do anything I want to tonight. That's what I want to do."
"We're not dressed for swimming." He gestured at her shimmering dress.
"So? We're two adults, and there's no one else around. Who says we have to be dressed?" She almost laughed out loud at his expression.
"Um....I don't think that'd be the best idea, Beth."
"You've never been skinny dipping?"
"Sure. But.... just trust me. It's not a good idea."
Beth couldn't keep a smug smile from forming. She knew what he was hinting at. "Okay," she gave in, deciding to have mercy on him and belay the teasing. "How about not-so-skinny- dipping?" She stood up and wiggled quickly out the dress, dropping it on the blanket at her feet. Mick stared up at her with an unidentifiable expression.
"C'mon, Mick," she gestured at her bra and panties. "These cover more than most bikinis." She felt so free, feeling the breeze on her mostly bare body. She let out a laugh and took off running across the sand, then splashed into the surf.
She let out a yell of shock. "It's cold!" Then she looked back the way she'd come. She could just make out Mick's dark form under the moon, standing now instead of sitting. "If you don't want me to drown out here in the dark you'd better come with me!" she called to him. She was gratified to see some movement. He was removing his shirt and pants, dropping them carelessly to the blanket. She watched as he jogged toward her. Hmm. He was a boxer man. She'd have figured him for tightie whities. Beth laughed at herself. What was wrong with her tonight? She felt so happy, so free. Something about Mick just made her feel complete abandon, like she could do anything. She liked that feeling.
Mick splashed out into the surf to join her, sending up sparkling droplets. "To you if feels cold. To me it feels good." He was hit face first by a wave. He sputtered and shook his head briskly, shaking water from his face and hair. Beth just laughed.
"When I was a kid, I used to like to ride the waves. Have you ever done that?" she asked him.
"No. I didn't get to the beach much. We came a few times, though."
"Here comes a good one," she said excitedly. She waited until the wave was almost on top of her, then she jumped, riding the wave to the shore where it dumped her in the sand. She laughed as she waded out back to Mick, who was braced against the waves to stay standing. "It's much better when you're out deeper, but it's still fun. Try it. Ready? Here comes one! Jump!"
They jumped together, Mick being careful not to use his superior strength to jump beyond human standards. "Woooohoooo!" Beth yelled as they rode the wave again to the shore and landed in the sand, both laughing hard.
"You're right. It is fun," Mick agreed.
They spent the next twenty minutes playing in the waves and swimming a little, until Beth's teeth began to chatter.
They walked back to the blanket dripping wet, the sand clinging to their feet, and tired. Well, Beth knew she was tired. Mick looked like the exhausting water activity hadn't affected him at all.
Mick reached down and grabbed an end of the blanket and pulled it up, dumping their clothes and shoes into the sand. "Here," he said, and wrapped the blanket around Beth.
"Thanks." She wrapped the blanket closer around her as they both sat in the sand. Neither of them cared that they were grainy with sand that would get everywhere. Beth scooted closer to Mick, leaning against him, and he put an arm around her and hugged her close to his side. She let her head rest against his bare shoulder.
"Getting warm yet?" he asked her.
Beth stretched her legs out from where they'd been pulled up near her chest. She yawned widely, then lay back and stretched out on the sand, still holding the blanket close to her. Mick lay back next to her, and they both turned onto their side so that they were facing each other, propping their heads up.
"So, Josef is your sire now, and not Coraline." Beth mentioned, referring to the things Mick had told her at dinner. She was intrigued at these new turn of events, and she hadn't had the chance to ask quesions. She'd simply listened as Mick had talked about the things going on the last couple of months.
"Yep," he confirmed, waiting. He knew she was about to start the inquisition, but he felt he owed it to her help her understand.
"Is that wierd for you?"
"It was at first. Now...not really."
"Was it hard to switch from one to the other?"
"No. Not in that sense. You know my past with Coraline. She was my wife, and I loved her at one time. But I'd felt betrayed by her, and she never did give me what I needed from a sire. I was missing out on more that I knew."
"And Josef gives you that?"
"Yes, he does."
"It just seems like it would be hard to get used to. I mean, he's always been your best friend, and now he's...well. Like your father or something?"
"It's not that definitve, but I guess something like that. But not quite. He's still my best friend, but now there's this whole new context to our relationship. It's hard to explain vampire relations to someone that has never experienced it."
"There's something I want to ask you, but it's pretty personal. If you don't want to answer just tell me and I'll leave it alone."
"You once told me that a large part of vampire turnings are lovers or spouses because of the strong emotions a vampire and his or her sire feel for each other."
"Well," Beth could feel a blush rise to her cheeks, but she had to know. "Did Josef becoming your sire put those feelings in you? Have the two of you become lovers?"
Mick smiled at the question, seeing her embarrassed blush. "No. We're not lovers. We are very close, though. Much closer than ever before. I wish I could explain it to you better, but there are literally no words that can describe the way vampires feel about each other when they're bound by blood. It's true many become lovers, but not all. No one knows what the difference is. It might have something to do with the relationship a sire and his or her turn had before the turning. Josef and I have been best friends for a long time, but we've never had romantic feelings for each other. That might have something to do with it. And before you ask, it has nothing to do with whether or not the vampires were heterosexual or homosexual before their turning. I suspect Josef has been with men before, though I don't know that for sure. Vampires don't live by the same standards as humans."
Beth was relieved. She didn't know how she would feel if she'd thought she might have to compete with Josef, but now she knew she didn't have to. Not in that way, at least. "I just wondered because the few times I've seen you two together since then I can see a difference. You're more physical with him, casually, I mean. And there's this...chemistry between you. Or something. I don't know, I can just tell there's a difference."
"You're right, there is. Vampires are defensive predators, so we don't initiate contact or close quarters with each other on general purpose. But we're also very sensual, and we crave contact with those we are bonded to in some way. But sensual doesn't always mean sexual, Beth. And even those that are sexual with each other, it doesn't always automatically make them lovers. Sometimes a sire will use sex as a tool. Either as reward or punishment in some way, or even as a method of teaching or controlling. But Josef and I don't have that kind of relationship."
"But you want him near you alot. I can tell. You spend a lot of time with him." Beth meant to sound matter-of-fact, but she cringed at the note of jealousy that was present in her tone.
"Yes, I do. I told you about some of that at the restaraunt, about the anxiety I get if I'm seperated from him too long, and i'ts likely to be that way for a long time. But it's more than that. I want to be near him, to spend time with him. You know.... I think I might be a different person all together if Josef had been my sire from the beginning instead of Coraline. I'm learning a lot from him, and he's felt the need to take up the slack that he feels Coraline created by not doing her job. At first I resented it, the whole idea of it, and there are still wrinkles every now and then. But I think we're gonna be okay."
Beth sat up, letting the blanket fall around her waist and lap. She looked at Mick speculatively. "You love him," she concluded softly.
Mick sat up as well and crossed his legs, fancing her. "Yes. I guess I do. But not in the way you asked about a minute ago. More like a father-figure, a brother. I've always cared about him as my best friend, or as a mentor, but now it's so much stronger. I don't even know if love is the right word, but I don't know a stronger one that would describe it."
Beth thought for a moment. Mick seemed happy, happier than he'd been since she'd known him. If Josef was the one that brought it on, who was she to resent him? And anyway, Mick had given up the mortality he'd so wanted just to save her, and Josef had made that happen. She didn't owe thanks to just Mick, but to Josef as well, if she wanted to be technical about it.
"That's good, Mick," she finally said in acceptance. "Everyone needs a family. How about we go put an ice cream cone on dad's charge card?"
Mick smiled at the small joke, glad they'd finally had this conversation. He was glad to get things out of the way that might come between.....them.
An hour after Mick had dropped her off at home, Beth had finished her shower and put her hair up in a simple ponytail. It was when she was emptying the small sequined handbag of the few necessities she'd taken with her that she discovered her cell phone was missing.